DRMacIver's Notebook

Coffee as a way of life

Coffee as a way of life

Right now I really want a coffee, and I shouldn't have one, so I'm compromising with a green tea. But this daily writing is about whatever is on my mind, and apparently coffee is what's on my mind today, so let's talk about coffee.

Back in early December I got the flu. It wasn't much fun, and I spent a couple of days basically unconscious.

As a result, I took the opportunity to break my caffeine addiction. This made it even less fun, but past a certain intensity it doesn't really matter if it gets a bit worse because I'm basically asleep and full of cocodamol either way. I had a coffee break scheduled for the week after anyway, so it wasn't bad timing.

I've been a coffee addict for about 20 years at this point - started when I went to university, and have continued ever since.

People look at you funny when you describe it that way. For some reason people don't think that the drug they take every day in order to feel normal is a real addiction.

Meanwhile Pact coffee, who I use(d) for coffee deliveries sent me this email after I started writing this post, and clearly know exactly what they're doing:

You took a break from fresh coffee deliveries a while ago. I just wanted to check whether you're stocked up, or it it's time to unpause your plan?

If you're ready for your next hit of the good stuff, just hit 'Unpause my Plan' below, or you can log in to your Pact Account Page to unpause your Plan whenever you need to.

People's responses when you tell them that you're quitting coffee are often absolutely infuriating. "Why would you ever want to quit?" is common - apparently the fact that they literally can't conceive of life without their drug of choice is evidence that it's not a big deal...

Most users also skip their daily drug dose so rarely that it doesn't even occur to them that the withdrawal symptoms are related. My dad has a story about how he used to get these really mysterious headaches every weekend and he couldn't figure out what was up with them, until he eventually realised that maybe the large quantities of strong coffee he drunk at the office might have something to do with it...

The best piece of advice I've given to people talking to me about this is to imagine I'm saying "cigarettes" instead of "coffee" as a sanity check for whether what they're saying is helpful.

Anyway, quitting coffee is hard, because you end up building your whole day around it. The first priority in the morning is dealing with caffeine withdrawal (if you wake up feeling like shit every morning, sorry that's probably caffeine withdrawal), which drags you out of bed to make coffee. You drink your coffee, and now you need to go to the bathroom (coffee keeps you regular, although how pronounced this effect is depends on the type of coffee). Now you've got lots of energy (although not necessarily the good kind) and can get on with your day. This gradually wanes throughout the course of the day until by night time you've run out of caffeine, feel sleepy, and fall asleep.

Or at least that's how it is for me. Others differ.

Quitting coffee I have... none of that. This causes all sorts of problems. For example, since quitting I've been really struggling to get out of bed in the morning because the cue I've been using has been the caffeine withdrawal, and my current sleep problems seem to partly stem from not being sleepy enough at night due to the lack of caffeine withdrawal.

In general it feels like the loss of caffeine has destabilised my entire way of being in the world. I'm much less agitated and fidgetty, which is one of the key reasons why I wanted to quit it, but it turns out I used a lot of that agitated fidgetiness as the basis of getting things done. One of the benefits of the daily writing this month is that it solidly proves to me that I can write without caffeine which is honestly not something I entirely believe.

Is all of this worth it? Honestly, I don't know. I like not feeling like shit in the morning, and not spending my day either wired, sleepy, or both, is pretty neat. I can read hard nonfiction in the evenings now because my brain hasn't run out of caffeine to fuel it, which is also neat.

But sometimes I have really bad days and I desperately want a coffee because I think, often correctly, that it will help. And this isn't ideal because when my caffeine tolerance is low, caffeine is a hell of a drug (it's about 4 hours since I started writing this post as I had some calls in the middle, and I'm still buzzing off that green tea and a little worried that I won't be able to sleep tonight). Caffeine really helps me plaster over variance, and is one of the tools I've used to be slightly more reliable over the years. Also it's very easy for one bad day to lead to another, especially if the caffeine I used to fix the first disrupts my sleep, and before long I've got a caffeine addiction again.

More than this though, it just feels like being a bit of a stranger to myself. There's the version of David that I was on caffeine, and there's the version I am now, and they're not miles away from each other but they're different enough that the whole thing feels disorienting. It feels like a healthier place to start from, but it also feels like I'm having to relearn basic things. Nothing about my day or my emotions works quite like I expect, because there are subtle shifts in how everything works - the rhythms of my day are different, and the mood I bring to tasks is different. It feels like I'm having to relearn a lot of things from scratch.

There's a pretty decent chance I fall off the wagon and go back to being caffeine David. It's not like this is the first time I've tried to quit coffee, and they usually fail - in my most successful attempts I get a couple months in and go "Wait am I just going to be this depressed forever? That sucks." and go back to drinking coffee.

But I'd like to stick with it this time. I like different things about caffeinated and decaffeinated David, but the latter seems like a better foundation for deciding who I want to be, even if I have to learn a lot of the basics of being him from scratch.